Dear Ms. Jordan:
Oh, how I wanted to like this book. You are one of my favorite HP authors but I’ll be the first to admit that when you miss, it’s spectacular.
At the funeral of his youngest half brother, Falcon Leopardi learns of a terrible act perpetrated on a young woman. His deceased brother took it upon himself to drug a shy girl who refused his advances, raped her, impregnated her, and then refused to support the child once it was born.
Falcon immediately sets off to find the mother and the child to bring honor back to the Leopardi name. It is not easy to find Annie (whose last name apparently was so unimportant that I wonder if it was included. I could not find it for the review). Annie had taken her baby and ran away, fearing that her stepbrother would bring some harm upon Ollie. Falcon did find them and gave Annie a choice. Stay in London and live hand to mouth or come to Sicily and allow your child to be given every opportunity. Annie realizes there is no choice and goes to Sicily with Falcon.
Annie’s stepbrother had shown an unnatural interest in Annie since their parents were married. When she had complained about it to her mother, the mother chastised Annie and suggested that perhaps it was Annie’s way of dressing (too short of skirts) or her actions (too flirtatious) was bringing on untoward reaction. The years of disapproval from her mother; the constant inspection by her stepbrother; the rape all conspired to overwhelm Annie with a sense of shame and hatred toward her body.
I thought that you did a fantastic job of setting this story up. When Annie anguishes over the fact that Leopardi family knows of her situation, Falcon corrects her:
"You speak as though you fear being shamed,’ he told her evenly. "But it was Antonio who should have borne that shame. It is we who bear it now, as his family. Not you. It is for us-‘for me as the eldest-‘to see to it that Antonio’s shame does not contaminate either you or Oliver. You have my word that my brothers feel exactly as I do.’
‘…I suppose you think secretly that I encouraged Antonio-‘that I deserved what happened to me?’
‘I think no such thing. I know that you were totally blameless.’
The problem is how the setup is resolved. The characters are forced to get married in order to maintain Annie’s right to parenting of Ollie. Falcon is more than willing to tie himself to Annie, after all the boy looks like he could be Falcon’s biological son; plus, he feels a strong sense of responsibility toward Annie.
Falcon convinces Annie that marriage is the right solution because he can heal her sexually. If you heard a low moaning noise that was my groan echoing across the Atlantic. (and not just because I then had Sexual Healing by Marvin Gaye running through my mind for the rest of the book and now again as I write the review).
Annie was so traumatized, first by her stepbrother, then by the abandonment of her mother, and finally by the rape and subsequent pregnancy resulting from that rape, the idea that all this could go away in the fierce passionate embrace of a Leonardi was far fetched to say the least.
This overriding storyline diminished the otherwise lovely Harlequin Presents. At its core, TSBB becomes a story of perceived unrequited love on both sides. Annie falls in love with Falcon but is afraid to divulge this because he has taken on so much for her and Oliver. Falcon cannot tell Annie he loves her because it would add to her burden. The two dance around each other making careful moves which are misinterpreted by the other to somewhat comedic but poignant effect for the reader who is omniscient.
I was simply could not overcome my incredulity at the idea that Annie’s emotional trauma could be overcome with a simple good rogering. I get that these Harlequin Presents heroes are supposed to be godlike in the bedroom but I don’t think even Marvin Gaye could bring on that kind of sexual healing. C-